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Senators support House call for bigger calamity fund in 2021

Several senators said they agree with a call from the House of Representatives to raise the country’s calamity fund in 2021 by at least P5 billion ($103.69 million) in order to better assist victims of recent disasters.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters on Monday, November 23, that he “concurs” and “agrees” with the call House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco made on Sunday, November 22.

The Senate might even add up to P10 billion ($207.38 million) to the calamity fund, which originally stood at P20 billion ($414.75 million), Sotto said.

“[It] shouldn’t be a problem to agree on [a P5-billion increase] or maybe even higher, given recent events,” said Senator Sonny Angara, chairperson of the Senate committee on finance, in a message to reporters.

Angara made a similar statement earlier in November, following the onslaught of Super Typhoon Rolly (Goni) in the Bicol and Calabarzon regions. Rolly was preceded by Typhoon Quinta (Molave), and succeeded by Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco), which left behind a wide swath of floods and destruction across Luzon.

Losses and damage caused by these tropical cyclones are estimated to be worth P35 billion ($725.81).

The P20-billion proposed calamity fund for 2021 was set before the series of disasters. With at least 3 more tropical cyclones expected in the remaining weeks of 2020, lawmakers foresee the need for larger allocations for disaster recovery in the 2021 national budget.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said increasing the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) may not even be enough, as the coffers of many local government units (LGUs) of typhoon-hit areas are also depleted.

“On top of the P5 billion to augment the calamity fund or NDRRMF, the LGUs hardest hit by typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses must directly be given additional budget to allow them to get back on their feet at the soonest possible time,” Lacson told reporters in a message.

Funding source

But where will Congress source these funds?

Lacson earlier suggested creating a separate item in the proposed 2021 budget under the Special Purpose Fund or assistance to local government units-local government support fund (ALGU-LGSF).

The ALGU-LGSF “is specifically for post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts to be undertaken by the concerned LGUs, including but not limited to the construction of evacuation and quarantine facilities,” Lacson said.

Lacson added that he has “required” the Department of the Interior and Local Government to provide his office with a list of the itemized programs, activities, and projects to be funded by the P20-billion ALGU-LGSF. This is because lump sums are prohibited in the national budget.

Hands off the anti-insurgency fund

Sotto disagreed with a proposal from opposition senators, including Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, to use all or part of the P19-billion anti-insurgency fund of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict for disaster recovery efforts.

Sotto said there are other items in the proposed 2021 national budget that can be realigned to the calamity fund. The Senate can take funds away from anomalous items, particularly those flagged by the Commission on Audit, he added.

For instance – several half-baked, rehashed “skeleton” projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways, recently exposed and criticized by Lacson.

Those amount to P68 billion, Sotto pointed out.

Stamping out the communist insurgency is a “main thrust” of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, and if Congress took away the anti-insurgency fund, Sotto said the President would surely veto the 2021 budget bill.

The Senate is set to finish its amendments to the P4.5-trillion ($93.32-billion) 2021 general appropriations bill on Thursday, November 26, and pass it on 2nd and 3rd reading the same day. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.